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Elliss literary voice emerged fully-formed in his first novel, Less Than Zero,
published to acclaim in 1985 when he was 20 years old and still a student at Bennington
College. In stark minimalist prose Ellis chronicled the desultory world of wealthy Los
Angeles teenagers living a hollow existence of drugs, soulless sex, casual violence, and
consumer extravagance. Comparisons to F. Scott Fitzgerald and a latter day "lost
generation" were drowned out by the more derisive label of "brat pack" that
was soon attached to Ellis and several other hot young 1980s authors with splashy book
contracts, in particular Jay McInerney (Bright Lights,
Big City ) and Tama Janowitz (Slaves of New
All hell broke loose with Elliss third book, American Psycho (1990), which is perhaps his masterpiece and one of the most shocking American novels ever written. Using the same flat, emotionless narrative voice from his earlier work, Ellis clearly laid the blame for his generations - and the countrys - moral meltdown at the feet of Reagans "morning in America" symbolized by the Wall Street boom of the 1980s. American Psycho is narrated by Patrick Bateman, 26 year-old investment broker and serial murderer. The novels chilling deadpan style is perfectly tuned for embodying the widening gulf between rich and poor, between men and women, between exploiters and the exploited.
Elliss publisher, Simon and Schuster, refused to have anything to do with the horrifying and controversial manuscript. (Ellis, however, was contractually allowed to keep the sizable advance hed been paid while writing it.) The novel was eventually published by Random House as a Vintage paperback amid protests that it be boycotted. There were a handful of critics who realized that beneath the gore, American Psycho was a sardonic satire comparable to Norman Mailers scabrous 1967 novel Why Are We in Vietnam?, in which a brutal Alaskan bear hunt became a metaphor for the dark side of Americas John Wayne military mentality.
Ellis later insisted that the theme of American Psycho wasnt violence at all, but rather rancid consumerism. Furthermore, as if to save us the ordeal, he even recommended that readers could skip most of it once they understood that the book was reducible to the following narrative schemata: "Shopping, shopping, shopping, clothes, clothes, clothes, sex, sex, murder, shopping, shopping, clothes, murder..."
The surprise of his ambitious new 482-page novel, Glamorama, is that Ellis has reinvigorated his style with a more reader-friendly comic energy and a hapless Candide-like protagonist. Victor Ward is a typical Ellis character in many ways: a male-model and New York dance club promoter living a pampered life of easy money, easy drugs, and easy sex with multiple girlfriends. Hes also a monumental doofus and often the butt of his own vacuous insights:
"Baby, Andy once said that beauty is a sign of intelligence."
She turns slowly to look at me. "Who, Victor? Who? Andy who?" She coughs, blowing her nose. "Andy Kaufman? Andy Griffith? Who in the hell told you this? Andy Rooney?"
"Warhol," I say softly, hurt. "Baby..."
Even minor characters are etched with witty precision, such as interior designer Waverly Spear - "dead ringer for Parker Posey" - and her breathless inspirations for Victors nightclub: "I see orange flowers, I see bamboo, I see Spanish doormen, I hear Steely Dan, I see Fellini... I see the 70s, baby, and I am wet."